The Mindful Approach to Being Human

It’s the fourth week of the Eat for Life program and some people are wondering why on earth I am asking them to do the body scan every day (a formal mindfulness exercise that asks people to systematically bring attention to their body from head to toe).  All kinds of comments are made after we do it at the beginning of class. On one hand, people say things like “It’s kind of boring,” “My mind wanders all over the place,” “The more I do it the less attention I pay to it.” On the other hand, people indicate “It’s really relaxing,” “I’ve noticed how it’s changed the way I relate to other things in my life,” “I’m able to release the tension in my body,” and “I am more able to cope with my emotions.”

Our lives are filled with things that we like and things that we don’t like, so it is useful to learn to be with both. We feel pain (both emotional and physical) and we feel joy. Mindfulness teaches us to treat all our experiences with equal care and compassion and kindness. Meeting life fully in each moment teaches us that we can be with whatever is present without reacting. And if reacting is happening, that’s okay. We notice that with curiosity and openness. Mindfulness can give us a pause between reacting and acting.

One way we react and then act is by reaching for food. Emotional eating is a very common occurrence and also one that people tell me they wish they didn’t do so much. I recently read a whole series of posts on Facebook where a woman was asking for a solution besides eating when she felt emotional. While there are those who recommended emotional eating, mindfulness practices were also mentioned. When finally asked why she didn’t want to eat emotionally, she noted that when she eats emotionally she generally binges on junk food which makes her feel terrible.

Mindfulness gives people a skillful alternative and one that is less likely to create more harm. Mindfulness gives you a choice and the skill to hold difficult emotions without needing to fix or stuff them. Research indicates mindfulness makes us more compassionate and empathetic towards our emotional discomforts and helps us to sit with the pan without running away or struggling with it. It can also help us perceive physical pain as less debilitating, with recent research indicating that it can reduce the unpleasantness of physical pain by 22%.

This ability to sit in our humanness with all of our emotions is facilitated through the various practices of mindfulness. It’s helpful to do practices like the body scan because the things you notice are a microcosm of what you experience in the rest of your life.  You’ll notice boredom, impatience, tension, judgment, sorrow, as well as joy, contentment, and peace. They weren’t “caused” by the body scan.  They are a product of your humanness and your life. Mindfulness teaches us that these emotions are mentionable, manageable, and natural.

When something difficult is present, one of my meditation teachers suggested saying  “oh, so that’s just what wants to be here right now.”  I always have found that very helpful. When something is pleasant, enjoy it. Be fully present for the food you eat, the conversations you enjoy, the sunsets, and the dawns. Don’t resist or cling to any of it. Let life flow through you and be present for it all.

We will all sit in the middle of pain from time to time. Mindfulness helps us do it with more grace. Do you need a better reason to practice? Go to the audio/video links on this blog if you need help getting started.  There are many meditations that you can use for FREE. There are body scans, breathing exercises, yoga practices, RAIN, and more.

If you’d like to join the next 10-week Eat for Life Program, a new class is starting in September. We spend a lot of time practicing mindfulness to help us live, eat, and move with more joy and ease. Go here for more information. Or, pick up a copy of my newest book, Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy, for 50 savoring practices to do every day.